Way back in 2012 when Microsoft introduced its first hardware laptop/tablet hybrid, dubbed “Surface”, we were first in line to purchase. Like many of our colleagues, we grew to prefer this hybrid concept over Apple’s iPad. The Surface combined so many of the cool usability features of the iPad and yet retained the functionality of a business-oriented laptop. Bill, of course, still values his iPad and other Apple devices and remains an accomplished ambidextrous Apple/Microsoft consumer. Phil, however, experienced a full-fledged Microsoft conversion when the Surface first appeared and has maintained a cult-like loyalty to the Surface brand. So, it is no surprise that our purchases of Surface products have corresponded very closely with the release dates of each successive Surface release: Surface Pro 2 in 2013, Surface Pro 3 in 2014, Surface Pro 4 in 2015. We waited breathlessly in 2016 for Microsoft’s next iteration of the Surface Pro; but it did not happen.
When Microsoft finally did release the next Surface Pro in June of 2017, we marched feverishly to our local retailer with pent-up anticipation to see what new features this fifth generation hybrid device would offer. To our surprise, Microsoft had dropped the generation number from the name. The new device was simply called Surface Pro (not Surface Pro 5). Also to our surprise, the new Surface Pro did not look all that different from the Surface Pro 4 that we had bought a year and a half ago. We gripped our credit cards a little tighter in our sweaty hands as we read the specs on the new Surface Pro and realized there was no dramatic newness there. With disappointment mounting, we turned away thinking that the Surface fever perhaps had finally broken. Then we saw it.
Right next to the lackluster Surface Pro sat another first for Microsoft, a full-fledged laptop, simply named Surface Laptop. Now this was interesting. No detachable keyboard, no kickstand in the back…this was a real laptop. Our grip on the credit card begin to loosen and our heart rate accelerated as we realized that this was now the ‘must-have’ device of the season. We played with the demo model for about 5 minutes; and the sales lady got an easy commission as we plopped down our card and went home unexpectedly with the new Surface Laptop.
Since that impulse buy, our view of the Surface Laptop has grown even more favorable. This laptop is not too small, not too big. It seems just right for both travel and in office use. The 13.5-inch screen is noticeably larger than the Surface Pro screen; and is a welcome enhancement. The keyboard is deeper and sports a fabric cover, which seemed odd at first but is now actually pretty cool. Even though the laptop is larger than the Surface Pro, it feels thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro when its keyboard is attached. This laptop is more akin to the MacBook Air in aesthetics. We opted for the version with the i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state hard drive; and this configuration is plenty powerful and very responsive. (Moreover, the Surface Laptop is lighter and more portable than Bill’s Surface Book, yet it seems just as powerful.)
We especially like the security feature that unlocks the laptop via facial recognition, which has worked well. We were also pleased to see that Cortana works very well and we were able to accomplish much of the initial setup via voice commands.
Microsoft touts a14.5-hour battery life on the Surface Laptop; and, while we know we probably won’t see that duration in actual use; we have noticed a great improvement in the battery life over our previous Surface Pro. We didn’t have to purchase a new Surface Pen, as the pen on our Surface Pro 4 works just fine. The only caveat is that because this device has a traditional laptop form factor, you can’t lay the screen flat in order to write with the pen or sign a document. This limitation doesn’t really matter to us as our penmanship pretty much sucks regardless of the angle.
One of the biggest surprises of the Surface Laptop, and perhaps its biggest negative (for us) is what comes installed on it out of the box. Microsoft is introducing its new stripped-down version of its operating system, Windows 10 S, on the Surface Laptop. On the surface (no pun intended) there is no noticeable difference between Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 S. The difference is that with Windows 10 S, Microsoft will only allow you to install apps from the Microsoft Store. This restriction, of course, is meant to enhance security by enforcing a sort of closed playground while working on the device (something that Apple has been doing for years). The problem is that there is a paucity of available apps in the Microsoft store. For example, you can’t install Chrome or Firefox browsers on Windows 10 S, because those apps don’t exist in the Microsoft store. Certainly, many of the legal applications we still use on our laptop would not be installable on Windows 10 S. So, while the idea is noble (a computing environment with enhanced security), and maybe even desirable in certain institutions, such as schools; in actuality, we find the Windows 10 S restrictions very confining. However, we were very relieved to find out that on this Surface Laptop we are able to upgrade to full Windows 10 Pro for free through the end of the year. That decision is a no-brainer.
While we intended to purchase and test drive the new Surface Pro, we were distracted and taken by the Pro’s new flashy cousin, the Surface Laptop. While the Pro has been a dependable workhorse through the years, it was getting a little boring. Surface Laptop was what we needed to spice things up, keep us up to date and feed our never-ending hunger for the latest and greatest devices.